Whether you own a new or a second-hand vehicle, a car maintenance schedule is one ritual you can’t afford to shy away from. You see, a car is not like a piece of electronics that can be bought and operated with the same numb touch.
Since vehicles have multiple moving parts, not forgetting fluids and bits of pieces that have a limited shelf life, regular maintenance is absolutely inevitable if you want your vehicle to thrive and survive. But, to most first-time motorists, topics related to car maintenance can sound a little overwhelming.
The good news, however, is that plenty of the maintenance activities can be undertaken at home without having to take your vehicle to a professional. For that reason, this guide has gathered some of the major maintenance tasks that can be done both at home and at the lube shop.
What is Car Maintenance Schedule?
There are many forms of car maintenance. However, in this specific subject, car maintenance refers to the act of inspecting your car’s systems to ensure they’re in perfect working order. Since your vehicle has many moving parts, a routine inspection is mandatory to ensure that all these parts are working properly.
A car maintenance schedule can be performed by either a mechanic or the vehicle’s owner. When performing the routine inspection, you need to use a checklist just to be sure you’ve inspected all the parts. Now, during a vehicle inspection, there are two major types of maintenance schedules that are performed. These are short-term and long-term maintenance schedules.
A short-term maintenance schedule involves checking those parts that are quick and easy to fix. Visual inspection is one form of a short-term routine inspection as you’ll be checking for things such as tire punctures, tread wear, corrosion on the battery, the condition of the lights, and signs of damage/rust on the car’s body.
Long-term maintenance, on the other hand, refers to inspecting those parts that have greater tolerance to damage. These include the suspension system, the brake system, transmission fluid, tire replacement, spark plugs, and belts among others.
What Are Some Benefits of Car Maintenance?
Now, what’s the need of conducting regular car maintenance? You see, most motorists that own new cars have been wondering why a routine inspection is necessary. After all, vehicle manufacturers have done everything to ensure longevity, durability, and efficiency.
But, what most motorists fail to understand is that some of the vehicle’s components are built with a low life expectancy. For instance, the tires can wear down faster than expected depending on your drivability. The oil and air filters can clog due to the number of contaminants present in the air and oil.
Fluids such as engine oil can lose their viscosity following temperature changes forcing you to replace them. That said, what are some of the benefits of performing a routine car inspection?
- Increased Safety: When your car is maintained routinely, it will stay healthy and lower the chances of breaking down unexpectedly. Since all the moving parts are inspected and replaced regularly, safety will be maintained at all times as your car will not break down in dangerous situations.
- Lowers High Repair Costs: By following the recommended maintenance schedule, you’ll notice that most of the minor problems will be tackled early enough before they can become major issues. Things such as leakages, cracks, and excessive wear can develop into major issues if they’re neglected.
- Improves Efficiency: When your auto is maintained regularly, it becomes more efficient. As a result, this helps to improve gas mileage, as the vehicle isn’t struggling at all.
- Improves the Car’s Resale Value: Now, there are times when you might decide to sell your car due to one reason or the other. If you’ve been following the right maintenance schedule, your car will have fewer drivability issues which will help to improve its resale value.
How to Perform a Car Maintenance Schedule
Now that you’re aware of the benefits of regular car maintenance, this guide will now discuss how exactly you’re supposed to conduct a car maintenance schedule. Now, before you commence with the car’s regular checkup, there are two things you must do.
One, you need to familiarize yourself with the car’s manual. Now, the manual holds important information about your car’s features and components. The manual indicates when a maintenance schedule should be done and which components need regular inspection.
Among the information, you’ll find include when to replace the fluids, when to swap the filters and the belts and which motor oil you need to use.
Two, you need to visually inspect your vehicle at all times. The reason why visual inspection is important is that it allows you to correct some of the minor issues before they can become major problems. Things like corrosion on battery terminals, broken headlights, loose bolts, and scratched paint jobs are just some of the minor issues that must be corrected immediately.
So, with that said, here are some of the areas that demand routine maintenance. For easy reference, we’ll group our maintenance schedule checklist into four parts starting with those areas that demand immediate maintenance to those that require less frequent maintenance.
1. The Lighting
Your car’s lights are the eyes that allow you to view the road ahead of you. The headlights provide enough illumination to view the road clearly. The taillights make you visible to motorists behind you while the signal lights alert other road users that you’re intending to make a turn.
In case any of the lights are faulty, then it would be impossible for you to accomplish all these. For that reason, you need to repair or replace your car’s lights immediately.
Most parts in modern vehicles are connected to the car’s onboard computer. In case of a problem, the onboard computer communicates to you via visual alerts on the dashboard. So, in case a check engine light, tire pressure light, or oil light goes on, then you must schedule immediate car maintenance to inspect the problem.
2. Wiper Blades
Other than the lighting, the wiper blades demand immediate attention in case they look worn out. Since wipers are cheap and easy to find, you need to replace them immediately to avoid endangering the lives of your passengers.
After Every 3 Months or 3,000 Miles
The first thing you’ll need to inspect at this stage is the car’s overall cleanliness both on the inside and outside. The outside should be cleaned thoroughly using a rated car cleaning shampoo to remove grime, salt, and bird droppings. After washing, a special protective coating should be added to protect the paint.
Likewise, the interior, which includes the seats, the windows, the dashboard, and the mats should be cleaned and conditioned to boost longevity.
Apart from timing belts, which are quite hard to view, V-belts and serpentine belts should be checked after every 3 months to see whether they’re frayed, cracked, or worn out.
5. Tire Pressure
Tire pressure is another critical area you must focus on when performing your maintenance schedule. In fact, your tires should be inspected often, especially when getting ready for a long drive or when carrying a heavy load.
To maintain proper pressure, you need to use a pressure gauge then confirm the right pressure with the owner’s manual. By doing this, you’ll improve your vehicle’s handling and also improve gas mileage as the tires will create less resistance when rolling.
If your car is new, then checking the fluids can be done once every three months. However, if your car is old or maybe it’s a second-hand vehicle, then some of these fluids should be inspected at least once every month.
Some of the fluids you’re going to deal with include the automatic transmission fluid, transfer case fluid, engine oil, brake fluid, coolant, windshield washer fluid, and the power steering fluid. Although most of these fluids have sensors that notify you when to top them up, you need dipsticks to check the levels regularly.
Similar to checking the belts, the hoses should also be inspected thoroughly for any signs of leakage, cracks, and bulges.
8. Tire Treads
The depth of the tire treads is the last thing you’ll be inspecting in this category. The best way to check the treads is by using a coin. If the coin sinks to a depth of 2/32” or less, then it means the tires are critically worn out. On the other hand, if the depth is 4/32” and higher, then the tires are fine.
Every 6 Months or 5,000-6,000 Miles
9. Tire Rotation
The first area you should focus on after every 5,000-6,000 miles is rotating the tires. However, to perform a tire rotation, you need to consult your manual to understand your vehicle. That’s because there’s a procedure you’ll have to follow depending on whether your car is a front, rear, or four-wheel drive.
10. Oil & Filter Changes
Motor oil is considered the lifeblood of your vehicle that keeps it running. It has many functions such as lubricating metal parts, cooling the engine, and flushing out sludge and other contaminants after combustion.
With such a huge responsibility, it’s clear that motor oil undergoes a lot of abuse. For that reason, you need to check and replace it every 6 months. When replacing motor oil, you should check the manual to know the right type of oil your car uses. When changing the oil, don’t forget to replace the filter.
11. Replace the Fuel & Air Filters
- Air Filter: The air filter is what helps the engine to breathe. In case it gets clogged, your engine will have a hard time breathing. If you drive frequently on dusty roads, the amount of air getting into the engine will be low thus interfering with the ratio of the fuel-air mixture during combustion. As a result, this will lower fuel efficiency. So, to avoid this, you need to check your owner’s manual to see when and how you’re supposed to change the air filter.
- Fuel Filter: The fuel filter is another area that demands regular checkups every 6 months. Just like the air filter, the fuel filter should be checked to avoid fuel contaminants from getting to the engine.
12. Wiper Blades:
The wiper blades should also be replaced at this point even if they’re not noticeably damaged.
13. Battery Check
Although batteries are rated to last for 4 to 5 years, they will demand frequent inspection to stay in good shape. So, the best time to inspect the battery is after every 6 months. Here, you’ll be checking for signs of corrosion, leakage of fluid on the case, and the possibility of loose cables.
Every 1-2 Years or 10,000-30,000 Miles
14. Brakes Check
At this stage, the first thing you’ll be inspecting is the braking system. These include the brake fluid, the brake lining, rotors, and pads. When you apply the brakes, the brake pads are the ones that press against the rotor (the metal disc) to stop the vehicle.
With time, the brake pads wear out while the rotor gets rough due to friction. Since this can affect your drivability, you need to inspect and potentially replace any worn-out parts after a year or two.
15. Vehicle Alignment
Vehicle alignment is something else you should do at least every one to two years. Even if your vehicle tracks on a straight line, checking the alignment will help to avoid premature wear on the tires, which is really important.
16. Brake Fluid
Earlier on, we discussed checking the level of fluids, which should be done at least once every month. At this stage, however, you’ll not just be inspecting the brake fluid, but you’ll also be replacing it with new young brake fluid.
You see, as brake fluid gets old, it gets contaminated with water, which lowers its boiling point. This can cause the fluid to evaporate causing brake failure when driving. For that reason, you need to bleed the brake system to remove the oil fluid then replace it with a young more efficient brake fluid.
Your radiator relies on a mixture of water and antifreeze to keep the engine temperatures cool. Over time, the coolant can get contaminated which can lower its efficiency. So, to avoid temperature build-up in the engine, you need to replace the coolant at least once every year.
18. Transmission Fluid
The transmission fluid is another area that demands routine inspection every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. This fluid is responsible for creating a smooth gear shifting experience when driving. Healthy transmission fluid has a pink color and a sweet smell.
However, as the fluid ages, it starts to turn into a dark red color with a burning smell. So, to avoid gear shifting issues, you need to replace this fluid at this stage.
40,000 to 90,000 Miles
19. Spark Plugs
If you happen to see the “check engine” light on your dashboard followed by rough running and hard starting, then it’s a clear sign the spark plug is faulty. Now, spark plugs come in different models such as those made from copper and those made from iridium. Copper spark plugs have a shorter life span (30,000 miles) than iridium spark plugs (100,000 miles).
20. The Differentials
The differential is responsible for sending power from the engine to the tires. Depending on your vehicle’s transmission, the differential can either be at the front or the rear. In the case of a 4WD, you’ll expect to find two differentials at the front and rear.
Just like any other component, the differential will need to be lubricated frequently to keep it functioning optimally. So, at this stage, you’ll need to hire a professional mechanic to inspect and lubricate the differential (s).
21. The Belts
Your car consists of two major belts that are the serpentine and the timing belt. The serpentine belt is designed to run through a series of pulleys to power various engine components such as the alternator, water pump, power steering pump, and air conditioning system.
On the other hand, the timing belt is designed to connect the camshafts and the crankshaft to control the closing and opening of the engine’s valves. Since both of these belts are made of rubber, they can wear down over time due to friction. For that reason, you must inspect and potentially replace them after 40,000 miles.
22. Suspension System
Springs and shocks are two important components that control the rebound of your vehicle when driving on bumpy roads. Over time, these suspension accessories get “tired” following extreme abuse. As your vehicle nears 50,000 miles, you must swap your old suspension system with something young.
23. Power Steering Fluid
The power steering fluid is another type of fluid that can get depleted over time. When its level lowers, the steering becomes stiff and in extreme cases, it produces excess noise when turning. So, if things get to this point, then you have to replace the steering fluid immediately. In most cases, this fluid should be replaced every 75,000 miles.
24. Change the Tires
One of the long-term car maintenance schedules you should focus on is replacing the tires. This should be done at least once every 5-years. You see, tires are made of rubber. This rubber material is coated with a chemical compound that breaks down naturally as the tire ages. With time, this degrades the tire causing it to wear down.
Now, there are times when you might be forced to swap your tires, especially when seasons change. For instance, when it gets too cold such as winter, it’s recommended that you swap your old tires with winter tires. Winter tires have tread patterns and chemical compounds that help them to remain soft in cold months.
Otherwise, normal tires are likely to harden during winter. Once they harden, they’re likely to reduce the grip, traction, braking force, and handling performance.
25. Battery Replacement
Other than conducting regular battery checks, your car’s battery will have to be replaced at one point. Just like those batteries you find in laptops or Smartphones, a car battery tends to lose its ability to maintain charge as it ages. This usually happens after 4 to 5 years.
Now, most of the car maintenance milestones we’ve listed here are just general guidelines. For a more precise guideline, you need to consult your car’s manual to know the exact moment for checking and replacing some of the consumable components.
Other than that, something else you need to understand is that the rate of wear of some of the parts will depend on your driving habits and the kind of environment you’re driving on. If you’re an aggressive driver, then most of the parts will tend to wear out faster. Likewise, if you drive on rough terrains, the bumps and the vibration are likely to cause premature wear on specific components.
Finally yet importantly, if you notice that car maintenance is becoming overwhelmingly constant, it’s good if you trade up your old vehicle for something young and manageable.